Valentines

ImageMy husband, David, and I are both chefs, so we are always busy working in our respective kitchens on Valentine’s Day. Cooking for hundreds of people while miles apart is a bit romantically challenging. So we try to capture and share the spirit of the day through our food, like this classic dessert, which has a few distinct twists to make it worthy of this special day.

We use wild flower honey to give an exotic flavor to the panna cotta and then we top it with deep-red blood orange granita. I love the texture of the granita – instead of being smooth like a sorbet – it's actually crunchy and icy (in a good way). I love the combination of rich and creamy with icy and tart, which makes it like a grown-up creamsicle, so refreshing, but also so beautiful to look at.

Kumquats are another of my favorite ingredients that I can't get enough of when they are in season. I seriously find myself trying to think of new ways to use them! In this case they are tossed with the wildflower honey and become rather “fresh-candied.” It’s an elegant and colorful dish, which is just perfect for Valentine’s Day. In our kitchen, it is executed by our pastry chef Breanne Varela who started at Lucques and A.O.C and because of her skill with sweets of all types, is now in charge of all bakery duties at our newest place,Tavern.

No Valentine’s Day meal is complete without a fantastic dessert, perhaps enjoyed after some champagne and caviar, which we rush home to indulge in – if Dave remembers to buy them, which happens about 50% of the time.

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party.jpgAll couples have the story of how they met. Ours comes with a small bit of fate – if you even believe in that sort of thing. It was Christmas-time and the charity I worked for was throwing a small bash to thank our local volunteers and meet some of our vendors. It even included an uptight board member or two. My future husband-to-be was not officially invited. He had other plans that night; however, his date canceled at the last minute to finish her holiday shopping. So, he called his good friends, Peter and Jo, to see what they were up to. Jo, being Jo, invited him to join them at my party. They were only about 15 minutes ahead of him and, she cajoled, the charity was chock-full of single women. She was not lying about that. Ten of the eleven employees were young women. Of course, since she had never met any of us, she did not vouch for our attractiveness.

I got their side of the story from them at a later date. Apparently, they had scoped me out and then engaged me in witty repartee until the unknown man of my dreams arrived. We were already fast friends by the time Dave turned up – aided a bit by some very strong margaritas – and in no time we were all chatting as if we'd known each other for years. It goes without saying, I gave him my card – though it was the first time in my life I had agreed to go on a date with a man who until moments before was a total stranger.

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LinzerCookiesLinzer cookies are based on the famous Linzertorte - a delicious tart made using a rich buttery dough with ground nuts, lemon zest, and cinnamon. It is one of the oldest known tart recipes, discovered in an Austrian abbey that dates back to 1653. The tart is traditionally filled with black currant preserves and topped with a lattice crust.

In the States, raspberry has replaced black currant as the jam of choice. Linzer cookies employ the same recipe as the Linzertorte but instead the dough is cut into cookies and two of them form a sandwich with the preserves. Many years ago, when I was working long hours on a television show in NYC, my friend Michele stopped by my office and surprised me with a box of homemade heart-shaped Linzer cookies.

It’s still a favorite Valentine’s Day memory – make some for your Valentine this year, it will make a lasting impression.

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2005-valentine-2.jpgAbout ten years ago, after a painting that she’d been working on disappointed her, my mother dragged the canvas out onto the front lawn.  Still in her painting clothes, she proceeded to rip it apart with a small hatchet, reducing a 3 by 5 foot work of art to an abundance of 3 by 5 inch works of art.  A few weeks later, she sent them, without explanation, to her friends and family for Valentine’s Day.  (The whole thing was a little “Vincent’s ear”, and the parallel did not escape her: she did a series of Van Gogh’s disembodied ear the next fall.  She also set fire to a couple of those, and then did a painting of them on fire.  And yes, I was an anxious child.)  The canvas scrap my mother sent to me that Valentine’s contains the original painting’s full signature.  Of all the fragments of her destroyed work, each one a tiny relic of perfectionism and mania, I got the one with her name on it!  

Receiving the portion with her signature, the veritable corner piece to the puzzle of her insanity, really means something to me.  I can see how, when other people opened their valentines that year, they might have felt a vague sense of reproach, instead of the more common Valentine’s message: affection. 

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heartcookiesLittle siblings of the traditional Austrian-Hungarian Linzertorte, Linzer cookies are very much a favorite in my family. These crumbly pastries are perfect for any holiday table. Make them round like wreaths for Christmas and for Valentine's Day make them heart shaped.

This recipe is rather simple. The dough can be made the day before and left in the refrigerator until it's time to roll the cookies. I used ground almonds in this recipe, but any ground nut, specifically walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts, work well. Make sure you refrigerate the dough in between batches. It will be easier to handle and the cookies will look neat and sharp once baked.

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